Thirty, Flirty and Thriving

Although their eventual collision promises almost certain mayhem, some things just can’t help but spin recklessly towards each other.

Hen dos and tequila shots.

Driving lessons with your mum.

Sid and Nancy.  

Covid-19 and my upcoming 30th.

Ah, let’s say the last part again, for dramatic effect. My. Upcoming…30th.

It’s a birthday that, without the planned distraction of family, friends and a good old knees up, feels like it’s coming at me like a freight train, a tonne of rattling emotional cargo in its wake.

At school and throughout our early and mid twenties, we all feel invincible. Old age? What’s that? Surely, we think, they will have found a cure for decrepit by the time the crows feet hit. Even looking at the lined faces and increasingly stooped postures of others, somehow the ageing process still seems like something that happens to, well, others. It’s this mindset, of course, which keeps the cosmetic surgery machine slick with oil. It’s why people take botox lunch breaks, cringe through chemical peels and challenge gravity with ‘lifts’ – any, or all. We’re offered self-confidence and fulfilment with one hand, while the other works furiously to feed our insecurities. 

I try not to pay too much attention to the seemingly overt significance society places on ‘30’. Stretched life expectations mixed with a dash of financial crises means that, in social terms at least, we are staying younger for longer. We’re buying houses later, getting married later (and less) and delaying parenthood. But pressure is still applied from all angles by well-meaning friends, family and even colleagues who playfully refer to you “settling down” soon. It was even suggested on a couple of occasions that Dave and I would surely, at age 29 and 30 respectively, be “at least be engaged” before we move to Canada? For two people who don’t care much about marriage we laugh it off. But please, people. This is not the ’50s.

Hollywood is arguably the guilty party behind the slow burning anxiety the big 3-0 landmark tends to galvanise. Who can forget Jennifer Garner portraying Modern Womanhood in “13 Going on 30’? A problematic movie from various feminist perspectives, the scenes of Garner sashaying around Manhattan in immaculate business suits, holding to-go cups and giving effortless presentations are the ones that really stuck with me. Watching this age 13, a precedent was lodged in my adolescent brain that this is what successful, grown women look like. And many times they do. But what we too often forget is that there isn’t one singular portrayal of success.

“Am I successful”? is a question we begin to ponder as our career train chugs down the tracks, bound for a destination we can only hope is worth it. For some reason, approaching Decade Three makes us seek more urgent answers. It ramps our curiosity – and our anxiety levels – up to beyond normal protocol, playing into the unwritten rule that by the time you’re 30 you’re a bonafide adult, a seasoned life-liver who has it all figured out.

The fact that leaving my twenties has collided with a global health pandemic, resulting in limited work projects and a huge amount of free time, has given me perhaps too many daydreaming hours to reflect on how unfigured out I sometimes feel. While I am happy and love my life in Vancouver, I’m sure if this were a film, directors would note my lack of corporate employment, comparatively sparse wardrobe and dwindling bank balance, and have me chugging wine straight from the bottle, hugging my close pals Ben and Jerry and waiting for a crinkly-eyed man to come along and turn my life around.

Being financially pushed and without much semblance of a five year plan is glamourised when you’re 20, but turn 30 and it becomes a thing to be pitied. Because let’s face it, as much as we all loved Bridget Jones, none of us ever wanted to be her.

To move on from unfair movie comparisons, 30 is the first big birthday where there seems to be more of a “heaviness” attached. For myself, and I’m sure many other women, I imagine our old friend the Biological Clock is responsible for much of this weight.

Yes, I’ve always loosely said that I want children, but it’s been something I’ll do “one day”. Now the decade in which that “one day” is approaching, when I think about having kids now I’m mostly, in all honesty, overwhelmed by a sense of suffocation. My life won’t be my own anymore, and I’ll be responsible for not only keeping small humans alive, but in shaping their emotional and intellectual development; their feelings; their future. To give them everything they could ever want and more.

Parenthood sounds difficult, heavy, scary. When I’m struggling to even establish a reliable income stream, the thought of supporting kids threatens to bring me out in hives. But above any of that, procreating spells out the end of my lifestyle and the traditional notions of youth clinging to its core. I live a life with endless freedom, a bounty of choice and lighter responsibilities. I’m not ready to part with this life I live, so why does society whisper that I should be?

But alas. Although the big 3-0 is negged on for being an emotional trigger, I realise that while this birthday may bring with it some anxiety, it is also wonderfully life-affirming; an opportunity to look ahead. With a new decade comes new hope, new dreams, new desires to be fulfilled. It should make you not anxious or sad, but thankful for where you have been, proud of what you have achieved and focused on what you want your future to look like. It’s in your 30s where arguably some of your biggest life changes can occur. Whether you decide to have kids or not, follow an existing career path or choose a different one, buy a house or travel the world, the beauty in it all is that whatever life you carve out for yourself is the one of your choosing.

In fact, you finally realise, where your adult life has led you up to this point has been the one you have chosen all along.

Turning 30 doesn’t change a bloody thing.

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